17/03/10 : ‘Silvers’ A Chapter From Rabbits And All About Them : C A House & A Watson

The Silver Grey it is said was sent from Siam to this country, and a writer in the early part of the last century speaking of them said that a peculiar kind of Rabbit had just been introduced into Lincolnshire called "the Silver-tipped," that it had fur of a darker and lighter shade mixed, with some of the hairs approaching to whiteness. They were being bred in large numbers, and their skins purchased for exportation. It is said they were known amongst fanciers as Lincolnshire Silver Greys, and that from one estate as many as 5,000 or 6,000 were sent away in a season, the meat being consumed in our large cities and the skins exported to the Continent. Silver Browns were introduced by Mr. G. Johnson, of Kettering, who bred the first by accident. He crossed a Silver Grey and a Belgian with the object of improving evenness in his Silver Greys; the result was a litter of brown Rabbits, the colour of wild ones. He kept a buck and doe from the litter and paired back to the Greys. In a little while he had beautifully silvered browns, which very soon bred true to colour and silvering.

The Silver Fawn is, without doubt, of foreign descent, as it was bred in France many years before it was known to English breeders. The first seen in England are said to have made their appearance in litters of Silver Greys, but the Silver Cream was known in France many years before this under the name of Les Lapins Creme Argentes, having been bred in large numbers to meet the demand of the furriers for their skins, which then, as now, were highly prized by those engaged in the fur trade of France. Our friend, the late H. E. Gilbert, of Rugby, had much to do with the introduction of the Silver Cream, as had Mr. Frith, of Bramley, who founded a very successful strain by crossing Silver Greys from the stud of Mr. H. T. Hincks, of Leicester, and Mr. Beckley, of London, with his own Silver Greys. The Leicester and London combination had previously produced a silver cream doe which had won many prizes for Mr. H. E. Gilbert, and it was through Mr. Gilbert that Mr. Frith received his stock.

Temperament plays an important part in the life of a fancier. Some there are who will plod on for years with one variety of Rabbit, whilst others are not content unless they have two or three different breeds to deal with. These will find the Silvers to be just what they want. There are three varieties—Grey, Fawn, and Brown—generally known, and a fourth—the Blue—which is seldom seen. Each must be kept separate from the other, not being inter-bred one with the other. Greys arc by far the most largely kept, with Fawns a good second. The Browns have not enjoyed the popularity to which they are entitled, but there are signs that they are in for better times. Many new fanciers are giving the Browns their attention, and the classes at shows are being better filled. At the best shows the three varieties have separate classes, and at the annual shows of the Silver Rabbit Club cups arc given for each. This is all to the advantage of the fancier who likes variety in his stud.
It will be best first of all to describe an ideal Silver.

The Standard of Perfection drawn up by the Silver Rabbit Club is not very lucid, it leaving too much to the imagination.

Undercolour
In Greys, a deep, rich blue black;
in Fawns, a .deep, bright orange;
in Browns, a deep, rich chestnut ... 25

Evenness of silvering throughout ... 20
Sharp, even, bright ticking ... 15
Short, full coat ... 15
Ears, neat and well set on, bold bright eye ... 10

Condition and shape ... 15

As to the points. Colour is the most important. This does not mean that everything should be sacrificed to colour. Still, colour is the foundation of the breed, and no matter how good a specimen may be in other respects, if it does not possess a fair amount of colour it is of little value. We will describe the ideal colour. In a Grey two colours—technically they are not colours, but for our purpose we must refer to them as such—are necessary, white and black. The former is always referred to as the silvering, the black being termed the colour. In writing of colour we therefore leave the white hairs out of account. At the tips of the fur the colour should be a rich blue-black, with plenty of life and lustre in it. The under colour, which is revealed when the fur is blown aside should be of a bluer shade, and extend as far towards the roots of the fur as possible. In some this under colour is of a pale, smoky shade, the fur next to the skin being almost white. This is a serious failing. There should be no brown or rusty tinge on the body or feet.

Fawns should be of a deep, bright orange shade, extending as far down towards the skin as possible. There should be no-suspicion of brickiness about the colour of a Silver Fawn, neither should it have a grey tinge. This colour should extend all over the body, head, ears, feet, and tail. A glance through a class of Fawns at any representative show will readily reveal the difference between a good coloured specimen and one failing in that point.

In Browns we have something entirely different to either the Greys or Fawns. Here we have four colours instead of two. What is meant by colour is, however, the deep, bright chestnut so essential in this variety. When the fur is blown aside this chestnut colour should show up clear and bright, with plenty of life in it. It should go well down towards the skin, rather more than half way. It should then give place to a slatey blue, this being termed the bottom colour. This bottom colour should be deep and bright, and it should not show anywhere except in the bottom half of the fur.

After colour comes silvering,, which is of equal importance. This silvering is the white hairs, which should be evenly distributed amongst the coloured ones. It will be well here to point out that in each variety there are three shades—light, medium, and dark. The shade of a Rabbit is determined solely by the quantity of silvering it carries. In all breeding operations the ideal to aim for is the medium shade. In this there must be an equal quantity of white hairs and coloured ones, they being distributed evenly over the whole Rabbit. In the light shade there is a preponderance of white hairs to the extent of two to one, and vice versa in the dark shade. The Silver Brown varies somewhat from the other two colours in this particular. On the surface of the fur three colours must be in evidence—brown, white, and black. The black hairs give what is called ticking. The three colours should be in equal proportion, as are the two in the Greys and Fawns. It is getting the silvering evenly distributed over all the Rabbit where the difficulty comes in. The body does not, usually, give much trouble, but the extremities. By the extremities we mean the head, ears, feet and tail, and to get these silvered off, and exactly the same shade as the body, is very difficult. Sometimes the feet are lighter than the body, whilst in other specimens they are darker. The ears, too, are liable to the same failings, whilst it is no uncommon sight to see an otherwise good specimen with a head darker than the body, especially on the cheeks and whisker beds. The tail also comes dark sometimes, but that is not so serious a failing.

Ticking! We have already referred to the black ticking in Silver Browns. There is also the chestnut brown ticking in the same variety, this being given by the colour of the Rabbit. In Greys and Fawns the ticking is the colour on the tips of the fur, and it should show up sharp and bright against the white hairs. Like the silvering, the ticking should be even all over the Rabbit. It will, perhaps, be as well here to make it known that the under-part of a Silver Rabbit—the belly—is of little account. In a Grey it is practically the same as the other parts of the body, but in Fawns and Browns it is white, or nearly so.

Though allotted only fifteen points, there is no property about a Silver which makes or mars a specimen as does the coat. It is imperative that a Rabbit have a good coat if it is to be successful in the show or breeding pen. A thin coat is as much an abomination as a long one. It should be so short and full that when rubbed the wrong way it will fly back into position on being released, and show no signs of having been disturbed. That is the perfect coat! Without a good coat it is impossible for the ticking and silvering to show up sharp and bright, the Striking contrast between the colours being lost altogether. It will thus be seen how important a part the coat of a Silver plays.

With ten points for ears and eyes, and fifteen for shape and condition, the 100 given for a perfect Rabbit is complete. There is not much to say about these. " Ears neat and well set " almost explains itself. Suffice it to say, then, that the ears should be in proportion to the size of the Rabbit, and that they should be carried close together. A Rabbit of about 6 lbs. weight is big enough and it should be of medium build. Condition is important yet it is a thing many fail to see the value of. No matter how good a Silver may be, if it is penned in poor condition it will not secure leading honours. A Rabbit burdened with fat is not in good condition, neither is one which does not carry a fair amount of flesh. What is wanted is just sufficient flesh to tighten up the coat, and that flesh must be hard and fine.

Knowing what is required in a winning Silver, let us see if we can find out how to produce it. The question of shade is very puzzling to young breeders. We do not now have classes for different shades. Some years ago shade classes were the rule, but there was so much confusion that they had to be done away with. There were some specimens which were neither dark nor medium, and others which were neither medium nor light. We have such at the present time, and we have heard many arguments at the pen side as to what really was the correct definition of certain Rabbits. These discussions have taken place between old and experienced fanciers, so if they are not of one mind, where does the beginner come in? When shade classes were in vogue it was no uncommon thing for a Rabbit to win in a class under one judge and a few days afterward to be passed as "wrong class" by another. Fanciers were often puzzled as to which class to enter these between shade Rabbits in, more especially so when the judges did not agree as to what shade they were. The breeder who wishes to build up a successful stud must have in his hutches Rabbits of all three shades. All are necessary, and it is the proper blending of the three which gives the best results. The aim of a breeder should be to produce the true medium shade of Rabbit. If he aims for that he will get both light shades and dark, as well as the medium, at least if he does not get them he is working on wrong lines.

Unfortunately, light shades have gone out of favour of recent years, very few really good ones being exhibited. There has been a demand for colour, a demand which many interpreted as an order that light shades should be kept at home, as they were of no use for the show pen. In consequence, breeders began to eliminate the light shades from their breeding hutches. This meant that in time there were practically no good light shades exhibited. This gave further colour to the idea that light shades were to be dismissed, consequently there was a general darkening of the shade of Silvers exhibited. Happily we have seen the error of our ways, and we are now on the way to produce Silvers of all shades which can hold their own in the keenest competition.

The light shade desirable is the one having plenty of rich under colour, and a nice display of bright ticking on top. Lightshades which are washed out in under colour are no use what ever. Colour a light shade must have. Ticking, too, must be in evidence, though there is usually no fear of this being wrong if the under colour is right. They should also be sound on feet, otherwise there is a tendency for them to produce light-footed stock. Medium shades are good for breeding so far as shade alone is concerned. It is the other necessary points which determine whether a medium has to be kept or put in the pot. It is the dark shade which is the stumbling block to many. They imagine that so long as a Rabbit is a dark shade it is all right. They have an idea that with a fair proportion of dark shades in the stud the colour will be all that is required. Such is not necessarily the case. There are some dark shades which are an entire failure from the colour stand point. The dark shade must have under-colour of exceptional depth and brightness. If it has not, it is of no use. In the next place, it must be possessed of a fair amount of silvering, and this be carried well over the haunches.

In making a start to breed Silvers, we would advise the purchase of a medium doe; many are advertised in "Fur and Feather" each week. Make certain that she is from good stock. Breeding counts for a good deal in trying to produce winning Silvers. If the pocket will run to it, more than one doe can be bought. We are writing for the man of limited means. The man with a long purse can always get on the right tack because he can afford to purchase winners at the commencement. If more does be purchased, they need not, of necessity, be all of the medium shade. A light and a medium would give a good start, as would! a dark and a. medium. It is not necessary to purchase a buck. The best bucks of all colours are placed at stud through "Fur and Feather " at such reasonable fees that it is foolish to use anything but the best. The average beginner cannot afford to buy winning bucks, but there are few who cannot afford the stud fee.

We would not have a doe with a very light chest. This is a failing most easily reproduced in youngsters. Light feet are also serious, if too pronounced, as are light ears, the latter not to no great a degree, perhaps. Plenty of under colour must also be in evidence. This point must be kept well in mind when selecting Stock, otherwise the best results cannot be expected. In Browns, those specimens showing a blue cast on the tips of the fur should be avoided. The blue colouring should not be seen at all until the coat is blown aside. Quality of coat cannot be given too important a place in breeding stock. On no account breed from bad coated ones, either bucks or does. Bad coated specimens will never breed good coated youngsters. Such failings as dark toes, cheeks, and muzzle need not be taken too seriously in a breeding doe if she is good in other respects. Neither should a dark tail cause undue alarm. A maiden doe is preferable, though if such is not obtainable, one which has had a litter, or maybe two, need not be passed over.

As to the mating of the doe, it is always best to leave this in the hands of the seller, if he has a suitable buck. If not, choose one advertised at stud. As a rule, it is not wise to pair a light doe to a light buck; medium or dark are the best, according as to how she has been bred. Neither should two dark shades be paired together, though two mediums may be mated in safety. Dark and light will fit in all right, if other points be suitable, whilst there are occasions when dark and medium are ideal.

One argument often advanced against Silvers is that one has to keep the youngsters a long time before their possibilities can be reckoned up. It is true that one has to wait a while, but that time is not wasted by any means. When the youngsters are born they are self coloured, the greys being black, the fawns and browns of their respective colours. This means that they have no silvering, therefore the whole of the litter must be kept until such times as they can be sorted out. Being compelled to keep the whole litter is not a disadvantage. Providing the parents have been bred on right lines, the breeder can depend upon having something worth keeping in the litter, with a very small percentage of wasters. This means that the youngsters have not to be reared in vain. That disposes of one point which many are prone to call a drawback.

We have omitted to mention that there are some youngsters which should be destroyed as soon as noticed. We refer to those with white spots on the nose or feet. No breeder, no matter how long his experience, can weigh up the value of a youngster until it has partly silvered. This silvering process does not commence until the young are about six weeks old, and then it usually makes its appearance on the nose. Even when the youngsters have commenced to silver their value cannot be determined at once, so much depends upon how the silvering finishes. When once the silvering has begun to show the breeder never thinks about the time of waiting which has gone before. He is so intent upon watching the development of his youngsters that all so-called drawbacks are put behind him for ever. Never again will he believe that there is any disadvantage attached to breeding Silvers. Then one does not need to keep a big stock of Silvers in order to be at the top. The percentage of useful specimens in every litter is so high that it is suicidal for the young fancier to keep a big breeding stud.

Once started, the silvering increases every day. Starting on the nose, it gradually extends up the face and down the chest. Soon it appears on the toes and works up the feet, gradually extending over the whole of the body, the ears being often the last point to " clear," as it is termed. This process is not accomplished in a hurry. It usually takes a few months to get through, though some clear off more quickly than others. The light shades make the most progress in silvering, the dark shades being the longest. The kind of silvering wanted is that which sparkles like hoar frost on a sunny winter's morning. All Rabbits do not have this silvering. In some it is of a dull, lifeless kind, which is anything but pleasing. It is hard to describe this on paper, but the novice will readily distinguish a specimen possessing it. When the silvering has developed down the chest, cleared off on the feet, got nicely up the face and coming through on the body, a fair estimate of the value of the Rabbit may be made. Those which are much lighter on chest than on other parts should be put on one side. We would advise killing them for the table, as young Silvers, say from twelve to sixteen weeks old, make a most appetising dish. Others which can be sorted out are those which have almost an absence of silvering. We need plenty of colour in Silvers, but we must at the same time have at least some silvering. Dark shades must not be self-coloured Rabbits with a few white hairs They can be too dark, just as they can be too light. "Too light”? someone asks. Yes, we often get Silvers much too light for either show or breeding purposes, and such should be weeded out. It is from such that we get light chests, at least there is a tendency for them to produce this fault.

When youngsters reach the age of ten or eleven weeks the two most forward ones can be sorted out and given a trial in a pair class. Many shows provide such classes, limited to-Rabbits under twelve weeks. When sorting out a pair, choose two of about equal merit. Such will be more likely to win than one good specimen and one which is but moderate. Remember, they are judged as a pair. At three and a half months old the youngsters should be forward enough for exhibiting in a class limited to Rabbits under four months old. They should then be silvered off on the feet, chest, part of the body and face, and,, maybe, just commencing to clear on the ears. There will have been gradual development from the age of six weeks up to four months, but the best will not by any means have cleared off at the latter age. Those which make " lasters "—Rabbits which keep their exhibition qualities for more than one show season-do not often get cleared right through until seven months old. Many noted winners were never forward enough to exhibit in young classes, but they came through all right as adults, and lasted two or three seasons. By the time the first litter has grown to maturity the breeder will not require much information as to what constitutes a real tip-topper. The developing process of the youngsters is the best education possible. Knowledge of which to pair to produce the best results can only come by experience, though after noting the results of one breeding season the man of average intellect will have a fair idea how to proceed.

For the fancier of an experimental turn of mind there is no breed of Rabbit to equal the Silver Brown. The mixing of the colours to produce the ideal is a fascinating pursuit. This is proved by the fact that when once a fancier takes up the Browns he never forsakes them. In season and out of season he is faithful to the variety, and is never tired of talking of his favourites. There is something in breeding Browns which captivates and keeps the recruit to the Fancy.

Silvers require no special management, the plainest of fare being quite sufficient for them. Green food should figure prominently in the menu, then there is no fear of trouble in moulting successfully when the time comes. If difficulty should be experienced in getting stock through moult, a linseed mash will usually put matters right. The secret of success in breeding Silvers is to keep the stock in cosy hutches. By this we do not mean that artificial heat is needed. Draught-proof hutches, liberally bedded with sawdust and meadow hay, will give excellent results. The full glare of the sun should not be allowed to get to the Rabbits, or the colour is likely to suffer.